June 19, 2020

JF2117: Big Renovation Projects With Joseph Bramante

Joseph is the co-founder and CEO of TriArc Real Estate Partners. He purchased his first multifamily property in the US in 2011 sight unseen and now his portfolio consists of 1100 units. He shares his story on how he started out buying a 26-unit apartment complex and almost went bankrupt during his first deal and he ended up making a 207% return on the refi. 

Joseph Bramante Real Estate Background:

  • Co-founder and CEO of TriArc Real Estate Partners
  • Purchased first multifamily property in the US in 2011 sight unseen
  • Current portfolio consists of 1100 units, increasing net operating income by over 80% on average within 48 months post-acquisition
  • Based in Houston, TX
  • Say hi to him at: https://www.triarcrep.com/ 
  • Best Ever Book: Raising the Bar

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Best Ever Tweet:

“The books give you this 30,000 view of the industry but its a completely different ball game when you are out there in the field executing” – Joseph Bramante


Theo Hicks: Hello Best Ever listeners. Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. My name is Theo Hicks, and today we’ll be speaking with Joseph Bramante. Joseph, how you doing today?

Joseph Bramante: Hey, man. I’m doing well. How about yourself?

Theo Hicks: I’m doing well too. Thanks for asking and thanks for joining us on the show today. A little bit about Joseph – he is the co-founder and CEO of TriArc Real Estate Partners, purchased his first multifamily property in the US in 2011 sight unseen; current portfolio consists of 1100 units, and they focus on increasing net operating income by over 80% on average within 48 months post-acquisition. He is based in Houston, Texas, and you can say hi to him at triarcrep.com. So Joseph, do you mind telling us a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on today?

Joseph Bramante: Sure. So I’m an engineer by trade, spent the first five years of my career with Exxon, as well as overseas when I bought that first property; I’ve lived in some pretty cool places. I was in Australia for a year and then Papua New Guinea for two years. I was working on a $22 billion project, of which a billion was the cost that I was managing directly. I got into the industry in 2011, purchased that first property sight unseen. I originally was trying to buy 80 foreclosed houses, and then after all these banks kept telling me no, they finally said, “Just go buy an 80-unit apartment complex,” but I couldn’t afford a 80-unit apartment complex, but I could afford a 26. So that’s how I jumped into the industry with the first 26-unit property, and almost went bankrupt on that first deal and turned the whole thing around by performing a $30,000 per door renovation… Which was really nuts considering one, that was my first deal and two, it’s a large rehab. In general, most people don’t even do those big of rehabs, let alone, on their first deal. And I turned the whole thing around, made a 207% return on the re-fi. I still own it today. We’re actually talking with architects right now, getting ready to scrape it and redevelop it to a mid-rise. So that property is going to be paying us three and four times what we made on it.

So that was the start, and then through that, I met my current two partners. We formed TriArc Real Estate Partners; originally the foundation of the company was back in 2013, but then rebranded in 2016 as TriArc, and our MO has just been these big value-adds. Started with the first one at $30,000, added 22 and 18, and we’re currently doing a $37,000 per door renovation over 220 units. So we really mastered that, and that’s how we were able to produce such big NOI growth in the first 48 months, like you quoted, because we’re doing these big rehabs on our deals. We’re not just doing base hits, because that’s just– one, that was what was available. You guys know, back in 2012 and 2013, there was a lot of property to renovate. Now it’s harder and harder to find those deals. People know how to resurface and whatnot by now, so it’s very rare you’re going to find something that hasn’t been through at least one or if not two renovations about the time you’re getting it. So we’ve transitioned more into the lower value-add, which is fine. If you’re really good at doing big rehabs, you’re gonna be even better at doing smaller rehabs.

So from there, we further expanded in 2016 into new development. So I saw that the spread between new construction and renovated assets was shrinking, and it was only a matter of time before new development was gonna make more sense than buying existing and renovating. So we started exploring that area and we’ve got our first 500-unit two-phase project, garden style; we’re breaking ground on later this year, and then we’ve also got two other new developments that are in the pre-planning phase. They’re gonna be mid-rises; one’s nine stories, the other is 12 stories, Class A plus properties. So it’s been interesting.

New development’s certainly, completely different than acquisition, in that there’s really no roadmap for it. It’s very much an open book, and it’s hard to find mentors and whatnot for it, and we’ve had to figure a lot of this stuff out on our own, but finally, three, four years into it, we’ve really gotten the right people around us who’ve done this before and helped us… And that’s what really real estate, in general, is all about. It’s all about the network, having good people around you, who’ve been through different components of whatever you’re trying to do, and forming teams. And that’s how, really, we formed our company. I’m a co-founder, I’m one of three, and that’s been really advantageous for us, because it gives investors and lenders a lot of confidence knowing that between the three of us, we’ve owned or operated over 43,000 units and 1.7 billion in assets in the last 30 years. So we have that history behind us, so that when we’re going forward, while our company is still growing, we do have quite a deep bench of experience.

Theo Hicks: Thanks for sharing your entire story there. I want to dive in and unpack a few though. So one thing that you said, the first thing you said that piqued my interest is that on that first deal you bought sight unseen was a 26 unit property, that you did the 30k per door renovation, and then resulted in a 207% return on the refinance. So that was the first deal right?

Joseph Bramante: Right.

Theo Hicks: So you said that you did the 30k in renovations, and then now you’re looking to go back and put in even more money into that deal, to bring it up to another level. So do you mind just walking us through– so was the original business plan to take it from C to a B, and now you’re going from a B to an A? Did you know going in that, that is what you’re going to do or that’s something that evolved later on, based off of the market that the deal was in? So maybe walk us through that thought process a little bit.

Joseph Bramante: Sure. So the original plan – it left a lot to be decided. There really was no plan. It was my first deal. The broker had said that it needs $3,000 per door in renovation, so that’s what we budgeted for. And then we get into the deal, and it’s a really long story, but just to keep it short – within the first six months of owning it, our property had gotten down to 85% occupied. We had four units down for renovation that we had taken sheetrock down on, we were renovating, we were installing central ACs, and then as part of the permitting process for that, we had to do an environmental, because we were idiots and we didn’t do one on the closing like every other one of your listeners knows to do, and of course, it came back hot for asbestos.

So we’re six months in, four units down, we have asbestos, we’ve had fraudulent insurance… The broker that sold us insurance – well, he sold us insurance from a company that was a fraud. So we don’t have insurance, we’re going into hurricane season, and then I lose my job at Exxon on top of all that. So it was really a very dire situation I was in, and I joined a local real estate group because that’s what you did back in 2012; there were no podcasts or anything like that… And all the mentors of that group were like, “You’re screwed. Sell the property, take a loss, lesson learned; don’t do that again.” But that didn’t really sit well with me, for a couple of reasons. One, I would have to lost five years of my life at Exxon, and that would have not been good. I’d have done all that work for nothing. And then two, I would have had a negative track record to go and raise money for. So that would have meant I had no career in multifamily either. So that was also not good. So I rolled the dice on that first one.

Me and my business partner who I had met out of that group, she had done large renovations before for other owners. She was a property manager, and she said, “Look, you’re in a great location.” That was the one thing that I did right. Two, actually. Location, and we knew it needed new roofs, because that’s what the PCA said. So those are the only two things I’d give us credit for. But location is everything; everybody knows the real estate motto – location, location, location. So we were in a prime location in Houston, and we’re surrounded by these million-dollar homes. So we did this massive renovation, went all in. I cashed out my 401k, took the penalty, all in. I stayed unemployed for six months and just focused on the real estate, took a bunch of courses, and we executed this rehab, and it was the craziest moment of my life, because our rehab was $700,000, the purchase price was $650,000. So it was just insane to think of, you’re doing a rehab that’s greater than the purchase price of this property.

We had to vacate the whole property down to zero, because it’s really not a good look to have guys in hazmat suits walking around while you’re doing an asbestos abatement with residents on site. You’re just asking for a lawsuit. So we vacate the property, we did the abatement, came in behind them, we did the big renovation, then leased it all up, and that was probably the most stressful nine months in my life, and it worked. We doubled the rents, we leased it up, stabilized it, refinanced it… And it’s just an amazing feeling on that first refi when you get that money back, because until you’ve actually done it, it’s all just stories and theories and whatnot for you, and when it was proved positive for me, that’s when I knew I had a new career interest, and that was multifamily. So that was our first deal, and then that was supposed to be the end of it. The plan was to hold it and maybe sell to a developer. That was our thinking in 2014, because we knew we were on prime real estate; and then in 2016, 2017, we started developing the skills to be developers, and now, here we are in 2020, we’re working with some of the top architects in town to scrape our entire complex. So just bulldoze the whole thing and come up with a mid-rise design and raise all new equity for it etc, and expand it to include not only our site, but the neighboring sites around us on our block. We’re going to do a JV with them to all partner together and do this mid-rise construction.

Theo Hicks: I’m really glad that you shared that six to nine months journey that you went through. Just one last follow up question on that deal and then I want to transition to the other thing we talked about, which is increasing net operating income by over 80%. So it was a $700,000 rehab – all that came out of your pocket?

Joseph Bramante: It was me and one of the partners. So we were 50-50 partners on the deal and we financed the rehab, so we had a bridge loan.

Theo Hicks: Okay. So you cashed out your 401k and used that as a down payment for bridging back on the rehab? Okay.

Joseph Bramante: Exactly. The first time I didn’t though. The first time, I was paying cash for the rehab, because I didn’t know any better. My education in real estate at that time was I read about six books on multifamily, and some of the good ones… David Lindahl is always on your list. Multifamily Millions, that was one of the books I read, and a couple others… And they give you this 30,000 foot level understanding of the industry, but it’s a completely different ballgame when you’re on the field and you’re out there executing in your specific market.

Theo Hicks: Perfect. Okay, so let’s transition into your bread and butter business plan now, which is increasing the net operating income by over 80% on average within 48 months. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you can’t just pick any deal to do this on. So obviously, the front end is making sure you’re selecting the right deal. So you already mentioned location, so we don’t need to talk about that again. Is there anything else that you have? What’s your checklist when you’re looking at a deal or a piece of land, so that you know going in that you’re going to be able to increase the net operating income by high double digits?

Joseph Bramante: For us, we’re really just focused on doubling our investors’ money over five years. We keep it simple, we target a high single digits cash-on-cash and double their money in five years; and for the most part, we’ve been very successful at that.

Now, part of the reason we’re at 80% is because we’ve had some really big deals. We’ve had about three or four big deals that have really skewed those results. We just closed on a 2015 construction about a year ago, and it’s more of a base hit deal. We’re exiting right at about a 2x multiple, but we’re not increasing NOI by 80%. Also part of that, just to be honest, is because I was buying smaller deals. So when you’re buying smaller deals in the beginning, it’s very easy to magnify and grow that NOI by a very large number, because that’s just how the math works. It’s the percentage and denominator factor.

So as I was buying these large deals like that first deal we did, I think we increased NOI by 400%. It was something stupid, because there’s 26 units, and the guy was really mismanaging it really badly, and we more than doubled the rent. So it had just a stupendous growth to the NOI there. But then of course, eventually what happens on all value adds is eventually the taxes catch up with you, which we’re just now, six years later, dealing with that effect. But to your point though, we’re not targeting 80% NOI growth. It’s just something that happened on its own, because we have big deals. Our targets for deals are high teens IRR, 2x multiple and high single digits cash on cash five year holds.

Theo Hicks: Perfect. So what you’re doing is you’re finding these deals, you’re putting them through an underwriting model and you’re finding what the purchase price is that results in that return, and then if the purchase price makes sense, you offer, if not, you pass.

Joseph Bramante: Yeah. And I would say the only difference between us in regards to why we’ve had some of the big home runs is because we’ve positioned ourselves in our market as the guys that buy the big hairy deals. So the one we’re doing right now, which is $37,000 per door across 220 units on the rehab, that came straight to us. We were the first people to see that deal, because the brokers already know that we do these deals, and if anybody’s going to do a big hairy lift like that, we would be the ones to do it.

Theo Hicks: This goes back to your first deal, or this could be just in general… How do you find the right contractor for these $30,000 plus per door renovations?

Joseph Bramante: Well, I’d say we’re a bit unique in that we’ve got construction in house; that’s as of January of this year. But we’ve been through two or three GCs, and unfortunately, it’s a lot of recommendations, a lot of tried and tested and just going through the motions. So you’ve got to hire these guys, try them out and really hold their feet to the fire on deals. But my background’s with Exxon with project management, so we had a little bit of a leg up on managing GCs and contractors, because that’s what I did for a living for five years. So for us going into these deals, you’ve got a big primary GC, then you might have a couple of other subs below doing other stuff that you feel like you can handle yourself and do it directly, and you don’t want to deal with their markup. So we’re going to have a detailed contract for the primary contractor, whereas the other guys might just be a PO or something like that.

So it’s really all about what you put up in the contract, setting expectations, putting a schedule, putting good terms in and developing a relationship with GCs. So we’ve been through, as I mentioned — I think our current GC we’ve hired is our third GC; they don’t all work out. My first two, they were great people, I have nothing against them, but they just have different price points, different quality levels… And it’s not necessarily the GC. I think what people need to understand about a GC is they’re more of staff contractors than construction guys, because all they’re really doing is they’re managing all the subcontractors. They’re not physically doing the work. Some of them might have their own crews, but they’re supplementing their crews depending on the size of the project with additional subcontractors. So if you’re getting bad work on a deal, it may not be the GC’s fault, it may just be that the sub that he hired did a bad job.

Theo Hicks: Okay, really quickly, how did you start raising money for deals? Was that after that first 26 unit deal?

Joseph Bramante: Yeah. After that first 26 unit deal, I had a pretty solid track record at that time. I was one for one and my first setback was a home run, at the ending. I mean, during the play, it looked like I was about to fall on my face pretty badly, but after that first deal is when I really started raising capital quite heavily, and started targeting these big value-adds.

The other thing I would say, just as a side note, is that doing a big value-add, once you’ve done one, especially on my first one, very few things scare you. And so I think a lot of what– the hesitation is for people to do value adds is that it’s scary. There’s a lot of unknowns, a lot of risk, a lot of things can happen, but once you’ve gone through it a couple of times, you get used to and are more comfortable with that risk, and you know how to respond in real-time to what’s happening; then you’re not as afraid of doing it. I think that’s probably, just my guess on why people don’t do as many big value adds, because they say they’re risky. But the reality is, in some ways, this big rehab we’re doing is actually less risky than a smaller rehab, because we’ve got so much money behind us on the rehab that any little nuance things that we discover have very little impact to us because of how much weight or how much money we’re spending on per unit basis; it’s easily absorbed by the GC.

Theo Hicks: Okay, Joseph, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?

Joseph Bramante: My best advice would be patience. I think there’s so many people who want this really quickly, they want to grow… And we’re only just over 1000 units, 1100 units, which isn’t really that big, to be honest. There’s some guys with these monster portfolios, and we’re more of a small to medium guy, to be honest. But that’s okay, we’re going at our own pace, and we’re doing deals that we feel comfortable with, and I feel like a lot of people – they’re rushing, they’re trying to get in quick and build these massive portfolios quickly, and the danger is, if you’re a syndicator trying to do that, that you’re growing and learning along the way. So if you quickly buy a bunch of deals when you’re still learning, then there’s a risk that you’re going to buy a bunch of deals and make the same mistake on those same several deals, versus just the progressive nature and maturing of you as an investor by taking your time, that if you bought those same deals over a five year period, by the time you’re [unintelligible [00:21:04].15] comes around, you’re buying that last deal, you’re underwriting and your execution on that deal is going to be significantly better than it is on the first deal.

So I think that’s the huge risk that people run into, and if you’re a passive, and you’re doing the same thing, trying to grow very quickly and deploy a whole bunch of capital, I think you run the risk of one, picking bad deals to go into, and two, you miss some market cycles. I think one of the benefits that people have is by– like right now, if you had dumped all your money last year, you would have been in a really bad spot, versus if you would paced yourself and done your investments over a couple year timeline, then you would have been taking advantage of potentially some really good deals that are about to hit the market.

Theo Hicks: Perfect, okay. Are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?

Joseph Bramante: Let’s do it.

Theo Hicks: Alright. First, a quick word from our sponsor.

Break: [00:21:51]:03] to [00:22:46]:05]

Theo Hicks: Okay, Joseph, what is the best ever book you’ve recently read?

Joseph Bramante: The best ever book I’m actually currently reading is a book called Raising The Bar by Gerald Hines. Hines Development is one of the top developers in the country. Gerald Hines is 95 years old. He started the company himself back in the 50’s, and he’s based here in Houston, his office is up in Williams Tower, which is right next to my house, and I hope to one day, get him to sign my book… But it’s just really inspiring to see his whole biography and his story and how he started and growing his company, which has 100 billion AUM; it’s just absolutely incredible. He’s strictly done development his whole life, and he’s an engineer like myself, so I gravitate towards that side of it as well… But it has been a really cool book to read, because I like to read books about great people who’ve done great things in my industry.

Theo Hicks: What is the best ever way you like to give back?

Joseph Bramante: So I’m a member of Rotary, it’s a business charity group. It’s one of the oldest charities I believe, or it has some significance in regards to that fact. It’s been around for a while. But I like Rotary because it allows me to give back in a variety of ways, both with my money and with my time, and the cause that goes back is always a different cause. We do a lot with housing, but we also do a lot with schools and helping kids and various other initiatives; it’s great. I’m a busy person and I don’t necessarily have time to do a lot of the research, so Rotary does a great job of vetting a lot of the charities beforehand, allowing us to give and know that it’s going to a good cause, and then also, like I said, get involved with our time and really get hands-on, which is really something special.

Theo Hicks: And then lastly, what is the best ever place to reach you?

Joseph Bramante: The best place to reach me would be on LinkedIn. I’m on there, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. The other way is, just send an email to info [at] triaarcrep.com and it would eventually make its way to me. But LinkedIn, if you want to get directly in touch with me is the best way. And if you do reach out to me on LinkedIn, let me know that you heard me on this show and I’d be glad to hear from you.

Theo Hicks: Perfect, Joseph. I really appreciate you coming on the show today and sharing your best ever advice, but I think what’s gonna resonate with people the most is you telling a story about buying your first property sight unseen. So you bought that 26-unit building; the original plan was, like you said, that there really wasn’t a plan at first. You were just modeling what the broker said, which is 3k per units in renovations, and then six months in, you had four units down that you were renovating and found asbestos once you did an environmental on it, and then you had some fraudulent insurance, and on top of that you’d lost your job.

So you joined a local real estate group, and it sounds like people there were telling you to just sell the property and take a loss, but you realized that not only would you have lost all the money you had saved up from your job, but you would have that negative track record. You [unintelligible [00:25:38].20] for one and would have a hard time raising money after that. So you met someone at that actual meetup who ended up being your business partner, who specialized in those large renovations, and told you that you’ve got a great location and that you could do a large rehab project and turn the property around. So you cashed out your 401k, got a bridge loan and did the $700,000 rehab, even though the purchase price was $650,000.

You vacated the entire property, and after the rehab, you were able to double those rents and refinanced, pulled some money out. You also mentioned, what sparked this whole conversation – now the plan is actually knocking the entire thing down and develop a brand new property because of the location. I really appreciate you sharing that story.

And then you also mentioned a few things about how you’re identifying deals. So you gave us your return targets, and that you really just positioned yourself in the market as being the team that does these big deals, and so brokers actually bring these deals to you, which was just very beneficial. You gave us some tips on finding the right contractors; obviously, you’re doing an in-house now, but it really just comes down to just getting in contact with a few recommendations and just testing them out, holding their feet to the fire, making sure you’re setting proper expectations with the contract and setting a schedule, but at the end of the day, it’s really just trying it and seeing how they do. And you mentioned how you’ve gone through a few contractors. Then lastly, you gave your best ever advice, which I really like – just to be patient. So again, Joseph, I really appreciate you coming on the show. Best Ever listeners, as always, thanks for listening. Have a best ever day and we’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Joseph Bramante: Thanks, Theo.

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